Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Only Nixon can go to China; only Trump can go to Iran and Kentucky -- UPDATED

Entering the political stage as a birther xenophobe cuts you a certain amount of slack with the base, and Donald Trump appears determined to make the most of it.
In an interview with MSNBC, one day after signing the party's loyalty pledge to not run as an independent, Trump said he would work with the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran, nevertheless calling it "a disastrous deal" and "a horrible contract."

Many of the 16 other Republicans seeking the party's nomination for the 2016 presidential election have vowed to undo the agreement. But Trump, a wealthy businessman, reiterated his view that too much money was at stake and his rivals were wrong to say they would rip it up.

"I love to buy bad contracts where key people go bust, and I make those contracts good," he said, adding that he would strictly enforce the Iran deal.

Trump took a different tack on the Kentucky battle over gay marriage. Some Republicans loudly backed Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who opted for jail time rather than issue any marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in support of gay marriage, which goes against her religious beliefs. 

"We are a nation of laws," Trump said. "You have to go with it. The decision's been made, and that's the law of the land."

It's important to distinguish between these moderate positions and the ones Trump took on taxes and the social safety net. Those earlier stances weren't really that risky – the majority of Republican voters actually agreed with him – but on the Iran treaty and marriage equality the median GOP position appears to be considerably to his right.

If this were fall of 2016, I'd call this a Nixon pivot (run as far to the right as you can during the primary then as fast to the center as you can during the general election). I suppose it's possible that Trump believes he's that far ahead (with the Donald, you can't really rule anything out), but I suspect that the underlying strategy – assuming there is a strategy – is based on the insight that the Tea Party movement may have less to do with ideological purity of the core and more to do with dislike for and distrust of the Republican Party establishment.

If you dislike and distrust me, we can still do business, but the moment you feel taken advantage of, you'll look for a way to terminate the relationship. The base likes Trump. They find his rants cathartic and his style refreshing (particularly when he's sharing the stage with the likes of Bush, Rubio and Walker). Trump is probably free to make choices that aren't open to other candidates (with the possible exception of Carson) and, given the current set of rules, that can open up this game in all sorts of interesting ways.


Charles Pierce has a characteristically sharp and funny post up on the recent anti-treaty rally. His take on Trump is particularly interesting.
How profound the cynicism of this whole enterprise is was on clear display outside the Capitol on Wednesday. While inside the building, an actual debate bounced around the Senate floor, out on the lawn, the Tea Party Patriots – who, as their six-figure president Jenny Beth Martin will assure you, represent merely a spontaneous uprising of people concerned about taxes and the deficit – were sponsoring a design contest for the creation of phantom bogeymen. Besides Cruz and Levin, whose entries were impressive, indeed, there was retired Admiral "Ace" Lyons, who's worried about Iranian missiles being launched from "their base in Venezuela," retired General Jerry (My God Can Lick Your God) Boykin, and Frank Gaffney, the guy who thinks Grover Norquist is a Muslim Brotherhood mole, and who is so completely around the bend that he's back where he started. The boogedy-boogedy flew thick and fast, and the historical amnesia on display was consistently impressive. For example, Levin bellowed that, "Never before has an American president armed our enemies," showing most arrant disrespect for Ronald Reagan ever evinced by a putatively conservative speaker.

My point is this. The Tea Party Patriots are merely rebranded movement conservatism, which is a very cynical thing to do. The rally on Wednesday was an incredible parade of retired military bloodworms, outright grifters, washed-up geopolitical sorcerers, and mutton-witted drive-time radio cowboys. Donald Trump, whatever you may think of him, is none of those. He knows what a festival of fruitcakes he joined on Wednesday. The way you know this is that his remarks did not contain warnings of electro-magnetic pulses or Iranian missiles launched from secret South American bases. There was nary a single mention of Neville Chamberlain. (I considered voting for him for a fraction of a sliver of a millisecond on that basis alone.) He declined to enter a gargoyle in the design contest. The worst he said about the agreement that had brought everyone out on such a miserably hot and humid day was that it was "incompetent," which is the mildest thing anyone called it all afternoon. And then, when he got off the stage, he told a jostling knot of reporters that the Iran agreement was a "done deal" and that the only solution would be to "vote those people out of office." A completely reasonable reaction, but one that would have gotten his head spitted on an iron gatepost if he'd said it from the stage. It was a moment of almost crystallized cynicism.

Most of the people who participated in the rally were sincere. Completely bananas, some of them. Misguided, certainly. But they believed what they were saying. The Libidinous Visitor looked out over the west lawn of the Capitol, off toward the Washington Monument, and he saw a lovely carpet of complete suckers laid out before him. He has less in common with most of them than he does with the Dalai Lama. He knows he's not like the rest of losers whom he followed to the podium on Wednesday, but he's willing to swim in that sewer if he has to, and he will tell you that he always comes up smelling like roses, because he's Donald Trump and you're not.


  1. Replies
    1. We need to be careful about defining "going to China." (insert Star Trek joke here.) I take the phrase to mean that someone can make an otherwise politically untenable move if they have sufficient credibility and political capital with the part of the electorate that opposes the move.

      Obama, on the other hand, saw that the electorate had gotten out ahead of the establishment on Cuba (much as it had on LGBT issues). He didn't need standing with the opposition because most people agreed with him.